While not all of us commute daily like we used to, more time spent on walks or baking bread mean that one of 2020’s brights spots is increased podcast time. And it’s been a great year for new podcasts, too. In addition to celebrity-hosted, guest-driven podcasts, we’ve also been treated to a bunch of high quality episodic, narrative reporting.
There’s a sea of fantastic podcasts out there. Below are our 2020 picks for those looking for something to binge.
The Rabbit Hole
New York Times
As far as podcasts go, The New York Times is most known for The Daily. But it also produces several podcast series, including the excellent Rabbit Hole. Launched back in April, it begins as a case study in how YouTube algorithms polarize people around extreme politics on both the right and the left. But it ends up going deeper, speaking to the broad schism pervading broader online discourse.
Winds of Change
Winds of Change centres around a conspiracy theory: Did the CIA write ‘Winds of Change’, a song by German band The Scorpions. A song so powerful it helped bring down the Berlin Wall.
The conspiracy theory itself sounds hokey, but the journey that follows isn’t. This is a deep dive into the techniques agencies like the CIA use, and — ultimately — a story about the power of music to elicit change.
Do people living through insane times realize just how insane that time is? That’s the vague theme of Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate. The first season looks at the presidency of Richard Nixon, and the reaction of politicians, the media and the public to Watergate. Subsequent seasons look at Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and slain rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac. This year’s season focuses on KKK leader David Duke and his rise to prominence.
In Bed with Megan and Nick
And now, something lighter for your 2020.
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are known for playing the tempestuously divorced husband-and-wife combo of Ron Swanson and Tammy in Parks and Recreation. They’re also actually husband and wife in real life, and this year started a podcast. They’re joined — in bed — by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Rob Lowe, Aubrey Plaza and more. If you’re after something breezy to chill out to, this is a great place to start.
Making Space: The Female Frontier
Hey! does podcasts too!
From the early days of the space race to the greatest scientific breakthroughs of our generation, women have always played a vital role in the history of space discovery. Sometimes front and center, more often than not invisible, these women helped build our understanding of space from the ground up.
The women that fought to carve out a place at NASA, the scientists who were overlooked by the establishment all the way up to the trailblazers leading the charge in the next age of discovery — we hear from six women, over six episodes, who represent six important eras in space discovery.
With the chaotic pace of 2020, the accusations that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to bolster his 2016 presidential campaign seem like decades ago. But the scandal that triggered a special council probe and, eventually, an impeachment, is one worth revisiting in depth — and that’s what the Telegraph’s six-piece Crossfire series does.
Nice White Parents
New York Times/Serial
Nice White Parents is a five-part series on the US’ education system, brought to you by the New York Times and Serial-creator This American Life. It examines the different educational opportunities given to minorities, and focuses on the unintended consequences of a powerful bloc: Nice White Parents.
Oh, Hello: The P’dcast
Gil Faizon, George St. Geegland
You may be familiar with George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, the aging alter egos of comedians John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. They’ve conquered Broadway and now they’re taking on podcasts. Specifically, a Serial-esque run about the death of Princess Diana — until the show nearly tears their decades-long friendship apart. It’s silly, delightful, and full of tuna.
We need to talk about the British Empire
The history of the British Empire and its legacy is complex. It’s also a history that many people don’t really learn about — and if they do, they rarely learn about it properly. Enter We Need To Talk About The British Empire, a six-part Audible podcast that explore the lasting impact of the Empire through the personal stories of those who lived through it. To use a cliche, it’s history come to life in a truly fascinating way.
When we think about Hurricane Katrina, we think about New Orleans being brought to its knees by powerful floods. But did it need to be that way? This eight-episode series from The Atlantic looks at the government’s response to the crisis, and how much of the chaos could have been avoided.
Staying In with Emily and Kumail
Three Uncanny Four/HyperObject Industries
Struggling with quarantine? Feeling a bit alone? Emily and Kumail are here with their guide to surviving the pandemic. They’re both writers who work from home and just kind of like staying in anyway. They give you entertainment recommendations and advice on how to avoid cabin fever. But, perhaps best of all, it’s just a really nice distraction from the world featuring two people you would really want to be friends with.